by Rory Nicolson & Iben Revsbech
European city breaks might be cheaper than ever but there are benefits to exploring the hidden gems that lie on your doorstep
Why Falkirk?” was the general reaction from our SURGE colleagues when they found out this piece would focus on the often overlooked town.
There seems to be an image problem. Many of our generation see Falkirk as a dying, post-industrial town; just another annoying stop on the train from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Yet when we found ourselves sitting with a cold draft beer in the warm glow of a bustling Falkirk pub, filled with folk music and laughter, we thought “Why not Falkirk?”.
It’s difficult to understand why this fairly large Scottish town is underappreciated. Some of the biggest engineering and sculptural projects in the world, let alone Scotland, have been undertaken in Falkirk.
Case in point: the Falkirk Wheel. A marvel of engineering. Even without considering the vital function it serves, it is a sight to behold. The Wheel looks like a Da Vinci sketch come to life.
The Kelpies, the world’s largest equine sculptures, were completed in 2013 and opened to visitors the following year. Inspired by the horses that powered the local industry which once made Falkirk an essential part of the Scottish economy, the 300 hundred tonnes of elegant steel dominate the local landscape. Most have probably seen them from their car window while making their way along the M9.
A cycling track lasting 16 miles links the Helix Park, where the Kelpies crane their necks, and the Falkirk Wheel. Along this route you’ll find Callander House. This large francophile mansion, built on the sloping grounds of Callander Park, has become a hub of nature and the arts, that mixes the old with the new.
The Saturday morning we visited, the house was surrounded by the bright neon colours of hundreds of runners, gathered outside the House cafe. We found the House, with its stunning grounds, cafe and free art gallery, to be a perfect place to spend a whole morning or afternoon.
Claire Mennim, a team leader at Falkirk Community Trust, admitted that the negative perception of the town is a problem many people seem to have until they actually visit.
“I was surprised when I moved to Falkirk. I didn’t know anything about it before I came to work here. I had no idea how much there was to do.”
A trip to the local landmarks isn’t all you need for a weekend break though.
The ancient town centre itself is worth exploring, with plenty of surprises hidden just beyond its, admittedly sad looking, High Street.
The narrow Wooer Street, for example, will catch your eye – especially in the evening, as small glowing lights lead you to some of the best places to eat and drink in Falkirk. It’s like a smaller model of Glasgow’s Ashton Lane, crossed with the wizarding world’s Diagon Alley.
One of the highlights is Coffee on Wooer, an effortlessly relaxed café, owned by Rory Gray. He laments that “Falkirk is often overlooked for Stirling” but his small cafe is attempting to change that.
Inside you’ll be offered advice on what coffee you might like, with a sniff of the beans before they are ground. It has the best practices of a city coffee shop yet the friendly attitude of a small town café. Rory is proud of what his cafe has achieved and its part in a growing movement of businesses catering to the young locals and tourists.
Following Rory’s suggestions, we visit two nearby venues to explore the nightlife.
The most popular destination in town is Behind the Wall, an independent bar that has been open for over 30 years, offering food, drinks, live music and comedy until late.
For a quieter option, the Artisan Tap offers an enviable selection of craft beer and live acoustic music. Adele Gavin, a local performer, explained to us how the music scene in Falkirk is thriving thanks to the various venues putting on frequent live music and jam sessions. Last year the town joined in the festival season with Falkirk Live! – a festival, rooted in blues and jazz.
Everywhere we went, Falkirk failed to live down to the bleak expectations set upon it by people who have never spent time there. It might not be a glamorous destination of the likes of Rome or Paris, but it has a unique charm and remarkable sights that definitely make it worth the visit.